Wednesday, September 18, 2013

From Ian:

Israel removes last significant ban on Gaza imports
An Israeli source told The Times of Israel that 350 trucks carrying building materials will now be allowed to enter the Hamas-controlled territory every week, an increase of 250 truck loads, in a bid “to increase employment and strengthen the private sector in the Gaza Strip.”
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the change in Israeli policy followed talks with the Palestinians “in cooperation with the international community,” and had “no connection” to the peace negotiations underway between the sides.
Palestinian Govt Endangered By Economic and Political Double-Bind
The IMF specifically called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to cut the wages, pensions, and benefits of public employees.
The recommendation risks trapping the PA in a double-bind, forced to choose between floating the West Bank economy or sustaining the Palestinian government’s political institutions.
Building and sustaining the economy will require, per the IMF report, cuts in employee compensation. But PA government employees are already going on strike – 95% of them walked out this weekend – over insufficient compensation. Further cuts could endanger the viability of the Palestinian government.
Jerusalem police arrest Islamic Movement leaders for allegedly disturbing the peace
Jerusalem policemen were attacked this morning near the Temple Mount in the old city, by Palestinian stone throwers.
Three men were arrested as a result, including the two Islamic Movement leaders, while two policemen were injured after being hit by rocks.
Arab Youths Carrying Molotov Cocktails Arrested at Tapuach Jct
Israeli Border Police have arrested two Arab men at the Tapuach junction after being alerted by suspicious-looking bags the pair were carrying.
The two men, aged 18 and 20, both residents of the Raas el Ayn refugee camp near Shechem, arrived at the checkpoint at the junction on Tuesday afternoon carrying plastic bags.
After border police stationed at the junction approached the two to check the contents of the bags they discovered four Molotov cocktails ready for use.
Terror attack thwarted in West Bank
A terror attack was prevented Wednesday when Israeli security forces in the West Bank caught a Palestinian youth carrying a pistol and knife.
The suspect was arrested by police and Givati soldiers at the Tapuah Junction in the northern West Bank, Yedioth Ahronoth reported. He tried reaching for an improvised knife hidden in his belt when security forces grabbed him.
UN Security Council faces reform calls following inaction on Syria
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Ban said he also endorsed reforming the Security Council, and that "almost all member states are in agreement that the Security Council should be reformed, but how to reform, how to change, the member states have not been able to agree."
"Sadly, the international community has not been able to help the Syrian people enjoy security and peace for the last two-and-a-half years," Ban said.
"The Security Council should be united at this time. The findings [in the UN chemical weapons report] by Dr. Selltröm and his team were indisputable and overwhelming."
Ban did walk back remarks that he made over the weekend in which he accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of crimes against humanity, maintaining that he was not assigning blame for the chemical weapons attacks.
Lebanese MP Echoes Claims Hezbollah Received Chemical Arms
A claim made Monday by Syrian National Coalition member Kamal al-Labwani, that Syria has transferred chemical weapons to Hezbollah, was echoed Tuesday by another politician.
MP Khaled el Daher, a member of Lebanon's Al Mustakbal party, asked the United Nations to send international inspectors to Lebanon, to inspect Hezbollah's weapons stores. He claims that he has “well founded” information, according to which Hezbollah recently received chemical weapons from Syria's president Bashar al-Assad.
UN Envoy: Golan Fighting Could Draw Israel into Syrian War
The Associated Press quoted the envoy, Robert Serry, as having told the Security Council the fighting could "jeopardize the ceasefire" between Israel and Syria that has been in place since 1974, monitored by UN peacekeepers.
Serry said that during "heavy clashes" last Thursday between Syrian troops and the opposition, five artillery shells and one tank shell landed on the Israeli side of the truce line.
He noted that the Israelis did not retaliate.
Syrian defector: I was told to use chemical weapons
In an interview with Abu Dhabi newspaper The National, Brigadier General Zaher Saket, a commander in the military’s 5th division who defected from President Bashar Assad’s army in March, claimed he had been instructed to attack rebels with poison gas on numerous occasions.
“I am a witness and received orders three times to use chemical gas last year,” Saket said.
Syria Hands Russia 'Proof' of Rebel Chemical Weapons Use
A Russian official has claimed to have received evidence of the use of chemical weapons by Syrian rebels, and dismissed a UN report suggesting the Syrian regime used poison gas as unreliable.
Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also slammed a UN report on an August 21 chemical weapons attack in the Syrian capital Damascus, which killed over 1,000 people, as "politicized and one-sided." The report - which concluded that Sarin gas had been used in the attack on a rebel-held Damascus suburb - did not explicitly apportion blame for the attack, but western leaders claimed it was proof that the Assad regime was indeed behind the deadly attack.
China: 'UN Report on Syria Not Impartial'
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing that Beijing would have a “serious look” at the report, but did not say whether China thought that government forces were responsible when asked.
“The relevant investigation should be carried out by the U.N. investigation team on an impartial, professional and independent basis,” he said.
MEMRI: In Egypt, Public Campaign Against Obama, U.S.; Calls For Intensified Cooperation With Russia, China
The Egyptian pro-regime and -army press published articles notable in their vilification of President Obama himself – insulting his mother, calling him mentally deficient and his administration "the Adolf Obama Reich," and even going so far as to offer a prayer that he would die in agony. Many articles contended that Obama and his administration supported terror by virtue of their support for the MB; columnists also opposed U.S. intervention in Egypt's internal affairs, and, in response to American threats to cut off aid, argued that Egypt was better off without it.
Egypt Freezes Brotherhood's Assets, Arrests its Spokesman
Among those facing sanctions are Brotherhood general guide Mohammad Badie, his two deputies Khairat al-Shater and Rashad Bayoumi, as well as Salafist leader Hazem Abu Ismail and preacher Safwat Higazy, reported AFP.
Since August, Egypt's authorities have rounded up dozens of senior leaders of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, including Badie, who was caught in a building in Cairo’s Nasr City district near Rabaa El-Adaweya.
Last week, authorities began investigating former President Mohammed Morsi’s family wealth and assets, reported Al Arabiya.
Analysis: Following US-Russian agreement, Iran will aim for a deal of its own
Meanwhile, Iran’s new nuclear energy chief has pledged increased cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency ahead of upcoming talks later this month.
Even Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that he believes in “heroic flexibility,” according to a report by the Iranian Fars News Agency on Tuesday.
“I agree with the issue that I called ‘heroic flexibility’ some years ago, since this move is highly good and necessary on certain occasions, but with commitment to one main condition,” he said. Khamenei added, “A technical wrestler also shows flexibility for technical reasons sometimes, but he would never forget who his rival is and what his main goal is.”
So it seems “tactical flexibility” means to serve the strategic goal of achieving nuclear weapons
Iran Denies Willingness to Make Nuclear Concession, Nixes Possibility of “Fresh Proposal”
Even if Iran did close Fordo, the country’s stockpile of low- and medium-enriched uranium and the 18,000 centrifuges installed at another enrichment plant near Natanz would allow it to make highly enriched fuel for nuclear weapons, said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington.
Yuval Steinitz – Israel’s Minister of Intelligence, International Relations, and Strategic Affairs – explained to Israeli Army Radio that “most of the centrifuges are not there; without Fordo they might be able to produce six, not seven, nuclear bombs.”
Iranian media is flatly denying the details of a Der Spiegel report published yesterday describing Iranian president Hassan Rouhani as ready to decommission the country’s uranium enrichment facility at Fordo in exchange for the West easing economic sanctions.
Startling Revelations From an Iranian Smuggling Case in Hamburg
I rarely attend trials, but this one is special. On July 24, 2013, the main hearing in the case of German businessman Rudolf M. and Iranian-Germans Gholamali K., Kianzad K., and Hamid Kh. opened at Hamburg’s Higher Regional Court. The defendants are charged with exporting 92 German-produced specialized valves for use in Iran’s Arak plutonium reactor and arranging the shipment of 856 nuclear-usable valves from India to Iran in 2010 and 2011.
The reasons why the UN Security Council has ordered Iran to halt the construction of the Arak reactor are compelling. If this nuclear plant comes online in 2014, as the Iranians anticipate, it could produce enough weapons-grade plutonium for two bombs a year. The smuggling of nuclear valves from Germany is therefore of exceptional significance and tops the latest UN list of reported alleged violations of the sanction regime against Iran.
Recently, an important detail of this smuggling operation was revealed on the German public television current affairs program, Fakt: “German officials clearly (knew) about this illegal trade since 2009 and did nothing about it for years.” How so? Did such an explosive shipment really take place before the very eyes of the German security services?
Human Rights Group Urges Facebook to Boycott Iranian Regime
The Israeli organization, which represents victims of terrorism in courtrooms around the world, sent a formal letter to Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, in an attempt to dissuade the multibillion dollar company from violating a U.S. law.
It was recently reported that 15 Iranian government ministers launched a new account on the popular social network even though Facebook is supposedly closed to the citizens of Iran. Ministers have made the new accounts by using proxy servers. The fact that Facebook is an American company headquartered in Palo Alto, California, makes it subject to U.S. laws.
Technical Glitch Momentarily Restores Social Media Access in Iran
A technical glitch briefly restored access to social media sites Twitter and Facebook Monday in Iran.
The social media sites have been blocked since 2009 after they were used to organize protests against the reigning regime.
Iranians reacted with cautious optimism when they realized the sites were accessible.
“If it is true, I think they have to register today in calendar as a day of Free Filtering,” user Abbas Farokhi told BBC Persian.
Thailand Jails Hezbollah Bomb Suspect
A 49 year-old Swedish national has been jailed over an alleged Hezbollah bomb plot in Thailand.
Atris Hussein was arrested in January after Israeli intelligence services tipped off their Thai counterparts over a planned terrorist attack during the New Year.
He was sentenced to four years for "illegal armament possession," but will only have to serve two years and eight months after the prosecution failed to convince judges of his connection to the Hezbollah terrorist group.
Instead, the conviction relates to Hussein's possession of 2,800 kilos (2.8 tons) of ammonium nitrate, which is used in the manufacturing of explosives, and the possession of which is banned in Thailand without a permit - which Hussein did not have.
Part Iran-Owned NYC 5th Avenue Office Tower Worth Up to $700 Million Cleared for Seizure by U.S. Government
A 36-story Manhattan office tower, partially-owned by a shell company controlled by Iran, has been cleared for forfeiture to the U.S. government by a federal judge, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday. The building is expected to fetch between $500 million and $700 million, the New York Daily News said.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest made the forfeiture finding in a case first brought by the U.S. government in 2008, ruling that the building is subject to forfeiture because revenue from it was secretly funneled to a state-owned Iranian bank, in violation of a U.S. trade embargo.


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